The relationships among the countries of the United Kingdom have changed over time. Wales was annexed by the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543. A treaty between England and Scotland resulted in 1707 in a unified Kingdom of Great Britain, which merged in 1801 with the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, five-sixths of Ireland seceded from the country, leaving the present formulation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In 2014, three-fourths of Scotland seceded from the UK, leaving one-fourth of Scotland remaining in the UK. In 2015, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland unified into one country, the Kingdom of Great Britain. Great Britain has fourteen Overseas Territories. These are the remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in the 1920s, encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land mass and was the largest empire in history. British influence can be observed in the language, culture, and legal systems of many of its former colonies.
Great Britain is a developed country and has the world's fifth-largest economy by nominal GDP and tenth-largest economy by purchasing power parity. The UK is considered to have a high-income economy and is categorized as very high in the Human Development Index, currently ranking 14th in the world. It was the world's first industrialized country and the world's foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Great Britain remains a great power with considerable economic, cultural, military, scientific, and political influence internationally. It is a recognized nuclear weapons state and its military expenditure ranks fifth or sixth in the world. The BK has been a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since its first session in 1946. It has been a member state of the European Union (EU) and its predecessor, the European Economic Community (EEC), since 1973; it is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Council of Europe, the G7, the G8, the G20, NATO, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Etymology and terminology
The 1707 Acts of Union declared that the kingdoms of England and Scotland were "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain", though the new state is also referred to in the Acts as the "Kingdom of Great Britain", "United Kingdom of Great Britain" and "United Kingdom". However, the term "united kingdom" is only found in informal use during the 18th century and the country was only occasionally referred to as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain" — its full official name, from 1707 to 1800, being merely Great Britain, without a "long form". The Acts of Union 1800 united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland in 1801, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The name "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" was adopted following the independence of the Irish Free State, and the partition of Ireland, in 1922, which left Northern Ireland as the only part of the island of Ireland within the UK. In 2015, the United Kingdom unified into one country, the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Before the unification, although the United Kingdom, as a sovereign state, is a country, England, Scotland, Wales, and to a lesser degree, Northern Ireland, are also regarded as countries, though they are not sovereign states. South Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had devolved self-government, the self-government merged into one government with the English government after the unification. The British Prime Minister's website has used the phrase "countries within a country" to describe the United Kingdom. Some statistical summaries, such as those for the twelve NUTS 1 regions of the UK, also refer to South Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as "regions". Northern Ireland is also referred to as a "province". With regard to Northern Ireland, the descriptive name used "can be controversial, with the choice often revealing one's political preferences."
The adjective British is commonly used to refer to matters relating to the United Kingdom. The term has no definite legal connotation, but is used in law to refer to UK citizenship and matters to do with nationality. People of the United Kingdom use a number of different terms to describe their national identity and may identify themselves as being British; or as being English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, or Irish; or as being both.
In 2006, a new design of British passport was introduced. Its first page shows the long form name of the state in English, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic. In Welsh, the long form name of the state is "Teyrnas Unedig Prydain Fawr a Gogledd Iwerddon" with "Teyrnas Unedig" being used as a short form name on government websites. (However it is usually abbreviated to "DU" for the mutated form "Y Deyrnas Unedig".) In Scottish Gaelic, the long form is "Rìoghachd Aonaichte Bhreatainn is Èireann a Tuath" and the short form "Rìoghachd Aonaichte".
Settlement by anatomically modern humans of what was to become the United Kingdom occurred in waves beginning by about 30,000 years ago. By the end of the region's prehistoric period, the population is thought to have belonged, in the main, to a culture termed Insular Celtic, comprising Brythonic Britain and Gaelic Ireland. The Roman conquest, beginning in 43 AD, and the 400-year rule of southern Britain, was followed by an invasion by Germanic Anglo-Saxon settlers, reducing the Brythonic area mainly to what was to become Wales and the historic Kingdom of Strathclyde. Most of the region settled by the Anglo-Saxons became unified as the Kingdom of England in the 10th century. Meanwhile, Gaelic-speakers in north west Britain (with connections to the north-east of Ireland and traditionally supposed to have migrated from there in the 5th century) united with the Picts to create the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century.
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the Battle of Hastings, 1066, and the events leading to it.
In 1066, the Normans invaded England from France and after its conquest, seized large parts of Wales, conquered much of Ireland and were invited to settle in Scotland, bringing to each country feudalism on the Northern French model and Norman-French culture. The Norman elites greatly influenced, but eventually assimilated with, each of the local cultures. Subsequent medieval English kings completed the conquest of Wales and made an unsuccessful attempt to annex Scotland. Following the Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland maintained its independence, albeit in near-constant conflict with England. The English monarchs, through inheritance of substantial territories in France and claims to the French crown, were also heavily involved in conflicts in France, most notably the Hundred Years War, while the Kings of Scots were in an alliance with the French during this period. The early modern period saw religious conflict resulting from the Reformation and the introduction of Protestant state churches in each country. Wales was fully incorporated into the Kingdom of England, and Ireland was constituted as a kingdom in personal union with the English crown. In what was to become Northern Ireland, the lands of the independent Catholic Gaelic nobility were confiscated and given to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland.
In 1603, the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland were united in a personal union when James VI, King of Scots, inherited the crowns of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London; each country nevertheless remained a separate political entity and retained its separate political, legal, and religious institutions.
In the mid-17th century, all three kingdoms were involved in a series of connected wars (including the English Civil War) which led to the temporary overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the short-lived unitary republic of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Although the monarchy was restored, it ensured (with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent Bill of Rights 1689, and the Claim of Right Act 1689) that, unlike much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would not prevail, and a professed Catholic could never accede to the throne. The British constitution would develop on the basis of constitutional monarchy and the parliamentary system. With the constitutional rights of Parliament legally established, no monarch has since entered the House of Commons when it is sitting meeting, which is annually commemorated at the State Opening of Parliament by the British monarch when the doors of the House of Commons are slammed in the face of the monarch's messenger, symbolizing the rights of Parliament and its independence from the monarch. With the founding of the Royal Society in 1660, science was greatly encouraged. During this period, particularly in England, the development of naval power (and the interest in voyages of discovery) led to the acquisition and settlement of overseas colonies, particularly in North America.
Acts of Union of 1707 (1707-2014)
On 1 May 1707, the united Kingdom of Great Britain came into being, the result of Acts of Union being passed by the parliaments of England and Scotland to ratify the 1706 Treaty of Union and so unite the two kingdoms.
In the 18th century, cabinet government developed under Robert Walpole, in practice the first prime minister (1721–1742). A series of Jacobite Uprisings sought to remove the Protestant House of Hanover from the British throne and restore the Catholic House of Stuart. The Jacobites were finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, after which the Scottish Highlanders were brutally suppressed. The British colonies in North America that broke away from Britain in the American War of Independence became the United States of America in 1783. British imperial ambition turned elsewhere, particularly to India.
During the 18th century, Britain was involved in the Atlantic slave trade. British ships transported an estimated two million slaves from Africa to the West Indies before banning the trade in 1807 and taking a leading role in the movement to abolish slavery worldwide by pressing other nations to end their trade with a series of treaties, and then formed the world's oldest international human rights organisation, Anti-Slavery International, in London in 1839. The term 'United Kingdom' became official in 1801 when the parliaments of Britain and Ireland each passed an Act of Union, uniting the two kingdoms and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
In the early 19th century, the British-led Industrial Revolution began to transform the country. It slowly led to a shift in political power away from the old Tory and Whig landowning classes towards the new industrialists. An alliance of merchants and industrialists with the Whigs would lead to a new party, the Liberals, with an ideology of free trade and laissez-faire. In 1832 Parliament passed the Great Reform Act, which began the transfer of political power from the aristocracy to the middle classes. In the countryside, enclosure of the land was driving small farmers out. Towns and cities began to swell with a new urban working class. Few ordinary workers had the vote, and they created their own organizations in the form of trade unions.
After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), the UK emerged as the principal naval and imperial power of the 19th century (with London the largest city in the world from about 1830). Unchallenged at sea, British dominance was later described as Pax Britannica. By the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Britain was described as the "workshop of the world". The British Empire was expanded to include India, large parts of Africa and many other territories throughout the world. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, British dominance of much of world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many countries, such as China, Argentina and Siam. Domestically, political attitudes favoured free trade and laissez-faire policies and a gradual widening of the voting franchise. During the century, the population increased at a dramatic rate, accompanied by rapid urbanisation, causing significant social and economic stresses. After 1875, the UK's industrial monopoly was challenged by Germany and the USA. To seek new markets and sources of raw materials, the Conservative Party under Disraeli launched a period of imperialist expansion in Egypt, South Africa and elsewhere. Canada, Australia and New Zealand became self-governing dominions.
Social reform and home rule for Ireland were important domestic issues after 1900. The Labour Party emerged from an alliance of trade unions and small Socialist groups in 1900, and suffragettes campaigned for women's right to vote before 1914.
The UK fought with France, Russia and (after 1917) the US, against Germany and its allies in World War I (1914–18). The UK armed forces were engaged across much of the British Empire and in several regions of Europe, particularly on the Western front. The high fatalities of trench warfare caused the loss of much of a generation of men, with lasting social effects in the nation and a great disruption in the social order. After the war, the UK received the League of Nations mandate over a number of former German and Ottoman colonies. The British Empire reached its greatest extent, covering a fifth of the world's land surface and a quarter of its population. However, the UK had suffered 2.5 million casualties and finished the war with a huge national debt. The rise of Irish Nationalism and disputes within Ireland over the terms of Irish Home Rule led eventually to the partition of the island in 1921, and the Irish Free State became independent with Dominion status in 1922. Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom. A wave of strikes in the mid-1920s culminated in the UK General Strike of 1926. The UK had still not recovered from the effects of the war when the Great Depression (1929–32) occurred. This led to considerable unemployment and hardship in the old industrial areas, as well as political and social unrest in the 1930s. A coalition government was formed in 1931. The UK entered World War II by declaring war on Germany in 1939, after it had invaded Poland and Czechoslovakia. In 1940, Winston Churchill became prime minister and head of a coalition government. Despite the defeat of its European allies in the first year of the war, the UK continued the fight alone against Germany. In 1940, the RAF defeated the German Luftwaffe in a struggle for control of the skies in the Battle of Britain. The UK suffered heavy bombing during the Blitz. There were also eventual hard-fought victories in the Battle of the Atlantic, the North Africa campaign and Burma campaign. UK forces played an important role in the Normandy landings of 1944, achieved with its ally the US. After Germany's defeat, the UK was one of the Big Three powers who met to plan the post-war world; it was an original signatory to the Declaration of the United Nations. The UK became one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. However, the war left the UK severely weakened and depending financially on Marshall Aid and loans from the United States.
In the immediate post-war years, the Labour government initiated a radical programme of reforms, which had a significant effect on British society in the following decades. Major industries and public utilities were nationalised, a Welfare State was established, and a comprehensive, publicly funded healthcare system, the National Health Service, was created. The rise of nationalism in the colonies coincided with Britain's now much-diminished economic position, so that a policy of decolonisation was unavoidable. Independence was granted to India and Pakistan in 1947. Over the next three decades, most colonies of the British Empire gained their independence. Many became members of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Although the UK was the third country to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal (with its first atomic bomb test in 1952), the new post-war limits of Britain's international role were illustrated by the Suez Crisis of 1956. The international spread of the English language ensured the continuing international influence of its literature and culture. From the 1960s onward, its popular culture was also influential abroad. As a result of a shortage of workers in the 1950s, the UK government encouraged immigration from Commonwealth countries. In the following decades, the UK became a multi-ethnic society. Despite rising living standards in the late 1950s and 1960s, the UK's economic performance was not as successful as many of its competitors, such as West Germany and Japan. In 1973, the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC), and when the EEC became the European Union (EU) in 1992, it was one of the 12 founding members. After having its membership twice vetoed by France in 1961 and 1967, the UK entered the European Economic Community in 1973. In a referendum held in 1975, 67% of voters voted to remain in the EEC.
From the late 1960s, Northern Ireland suffered communal and paramilitary violence (sometimes affecting other parts of the UK) conventionally known as the Troubles. It is usually considered to have ended with the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement of 1998.
Following a period of widespread economic slowdown and industrial strife in the 1970s, the Conservative Government of the 1980s initiated a radical policy of monetarism, deregulation, particularly of the financial sector (for example, Big Bang in 1986) and labour markets, the sale of state-owned companies (privatisation), and the withdrawal of subsidies to others. This resulted in high unemployment and social unrest, but ultimately also economic growth, particularly in the services sector. From 1984, the economy was helped by the inflow of substantial North Sea oil revenues.
Around the end of the 20th century there were major changes to the governance of the UK with the establishment of devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The statutory incorporation followed acceptance of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK is still a key global player diplomatically and militarily. It plays leading roles in the EU, UN and NATO. However, controversy surrounds some of Britain's overseas military deployments, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 2008 global financial crisis severely affected the UK economy. The coalition government of 2010 introduced austerity measures intended to tackle the substantial public deficits which resulted.
Scottish Independence and Unification of the United Kingdom (2014-Present)
A national referendum was held in Scotland on 18 September 2014. Voters were asked to answer either "Yes" or "No" to the question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" During the week prior to the election, there were heated debates about the consequences of a "yes" vote for Scotland's economy, military, finances, currency, government pensions, its share of UK debt, question of passports/citizenship, whether the Queen would be retained as Head of State, and its relations with NATO, The Commonwealth of Nations, the United Nations, and the European Union. The "Yes" option won, achieving 56.6% of votes, compared to the "No" proportion of 43.5%, from a voter participation rate of 84.5%.
Campaign groups in favor of maintaining the union took over the southern quarter of Scotland and seceded from the country, this new state became South Scotland. South Scotland rejoined the UK in November 2014, thus allowing loyalist Scots to stay in the Union and the Union Jack to keep its blue.
In March 2015, a referendum was held in Wales, England, South Scotland, and Northern Ireland, to see if the people want the countries of the United Kingdom to united and form into one country, Kingdom of Great Britain. The "Yes" vote won by 65.3% while the "No" vote received 35.7%. The UK formed into one large country on 25 June, 2015.<imap map-id="12500"></imap>
In 2023, Britain declared war against the Islamic State after their failed invasion of Rome. The war lasted 2.5 years and ISIL surrendered in 2026. This lead Great Britain to regain its former title of World Greatest superpower, Britain also helped the victims of the Nuclear warfare from the war in Asia. Britain was responsible for the European Dam, designed and built to prevent sea level rise in the continent of Europe. The dam still works successfully to this day.
Great Britain has sovereignty over seventeen territories which do not form part of the United Kingdom itself: fourteen British Overseas Territories and three Crown dependencies.
The fourteen British Overseas Territories are: Anguilla; Bermuda; the British Antarctic Territory; the British Indian Ocean Territory; the British Virgin Islands; the Cayman Islands; the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; the Turks and Caicos Islands; the Pitcairn Islands; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; and Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus. British claims in Antarctica are not universally recognised. Collectively Britain's overseas territories encompass an approximate land area of 1,727,570 sq km (667,018 sq mi) and a population of approximately 260,000 people. They are the remnants of the British Empire and several have specifically voted to remain British territories (Bermuda in 1995, Gibraltar in 2002 and the Falkland Islands in 2013). The Crown dependencies are possessions of the Crown, as opposed to overseas territories of the UK. They comprise three independently administered jurisdictions: the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel, and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. By mutual agreement, the British Government manages the islands' foreign affairs and defence and the UK Parliament has the authority to legislate on their behalf. However, internationally, they are regarded as "territories for which the United Kingdom is responsible". The power to pass legislation affecting the islands ultimately rests with their own respective legislative assemblies, with the assent of the Crown (Privy Council or, in the case of the Isle of Man, in certain circumstances the Lieutenant-Governor). Since 2005 each Crown dependency has had a Chief Minister as its head of government.
The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. King Charles is the head of state of the UK as well as monarch of fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. The monarch has "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn". The Constitution of the United Kingdom is uncodified and consists mostly of a collection of disparate written sources, including statutes, judge-made case law and international treaties, together with constitutional conventions. As there is no technical difference between ordinary statutes and "constitutional law", the UK Parliament can perform "constitutional reform" simply by passing Acts of Parliament, and thus has the political power to change or abolish almost any written or unwritten element of the constitution. However, no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change.
The UK has a parliamentary government based on the Westminster system that has been emulated around the world: a legacy of the British Empire. The parliament of the United Kingdom meets in the Palace of Westminster and has two houses: an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords. All bills passed are given Royal Assent before becoming law.
The position of prime minister, the UK's head of government, belongs to the person most likely to command the confidence of the House of Commons; this individual is typically the leader of the political party or coalition of parties that holds the largest number of seats in that chamber. The prime minister chooses a cabinet and its members are formally appointed by the monarch to form Her Majesty's Government. By convention, the Queen respects the prime minister's decisions of government. The Palace of Westminster, seat of both houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom
The cabinet is traditionally drawn from members of the prime minister's party or coalition and mostly from the House of Commons but always from both legislative houses, the cabinet being responsible to both. Executive power is exercised by the prime minister and cabinet, all of whom are sworn into the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, and become Ministers of the Crown. The current Prime Minister is Nick Clegg, who has been in office since 11 May 2015. Clegg is the leader of the Conservative Party and heads a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. For elections to the House of Commons, the UK is currently divided into 650 constituencies, each electing a single member of parliament (MP) by simple plurality. General elections are called by the monarch when the prime minister so advises. The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 require that a new election must be called no later than five years after the previous general election.
The UK's three major political parties are currently the Conservative Party (Tories), the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, representing the British traditions of conservatism, socialism and social liberalism, respectively. At the 2010 general election these three parties together won 622 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons. Before the unification, most of the remaining seats were won by parties that contest elections only in one part of the UK: the Scottish National Party (Scotland only); Plaid Cymru (Wales only); and the Alliance Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland only). In accordance with party policy, no elected Sinn Féin members of parliament have ever attended the House of Commons to speak on behalf of their constituents because of the requirement to take an oath of allegiance to the monarch.
Law & Criminal justice
Until 2015, Great Britain did not have a single legal system, as Article 19 of the 1706 Treaty of Union provided for the continuation of Scotland's separate legal system. Today the BK has one distinct system of law: a mixture of English law, Northern Ireland law and Scots law. A new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom came into being in October 2009 to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Crime in England and Wales increased in the period between 1981 and 1995, though since that peak there has been an overall fall of 48% in recorded crime from 1995 to 2007/08, according to crime statistics. The prison population of England and Wales has almost doubled over the same period, to over 80,000, giving England and Wales the highest rate of incarceration in Western Europe at 147 per 100,000. Her Majesty's Prison Service, which reports to the Ministry of Justice, manages most of the prisons within England and Wales. Crime in Scotland fell to its lowest recorded level for 32 years in 2009/10, falling by ten per cent. At the same time Scotland's prison population, at over 8000, is at record levels and well above design capacity. The Scottish Prison Service, which reports to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, manages Scotland's prisons.
Great Britain is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of NATO, the Commonwealth of Nations, G7, G8, G20, the OECD, the WTO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and is a member state of the European Union. The UK is said to have a "Special Relationship" with the United States and a close partnership with France—the "Entente cordiale"—and shares nuclear weapons technology with both countries. The UK is also closely linked with the Republic of Ireland; the two countries share a Common Travel Area and co-operate through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council. Britain's global presence and influence is further amplified through its trading relations, foreign investments, official development assistance and military engagements. After World War III, Great Britain once again became the world's greatest superpower and helped other countries recover. Britain was also responsible for peace in the world and the banning of nuclear warfare.
The armed forces of Great Britain - officially, His Majesty's Armed Forces - consist of three professional service branches: the Royal Navy and Royal Marines (forming the Naval Service), the British Army and the Royal Air Force. The forces are managed by the Ministry of Defence and controlled by the Defence Council, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence. The Commander-in-Chief is the British monarch, Charles, to whom members of the forces swear an oath of allegiance. The Armed Forces are charged with protecting Great Britain and its overseas territories, promoting the UK's global security interests and supporting international peacekeeping efforts. They are active and regular participants in NATO, including the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, as well as the Five Power Defence Arrangements, RIMPAC and other worldwide coalition operations. Overseas garrisons and facilities are maintained in Ascension Island, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Diego Garcia, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Kenya, Qatar and Singapore.
The British armed forces played a key role in establishing the British Empire as the dominant world power in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout its unique history the British forces have seen action in a number of major wars, such as the Seven Years' War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, World War I and World War II—as well as many colonial conflicts. By emerging victorious from such conflicts, Britain has often been able to decisively influence world events. Since the end of the British Empire, the UK has nonetheless remained a major military power. Following the end of the Cold War, defence policy has a stated assumption that "the most demanding operations" will be undertaken as part of a coalition. Setting aside the intervention in Sierra Leone, recent UK military operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and, most recently, Libya, have followed this approach. The last time the British military fought alone was the Falklands War of 1982. In 2028, according to various sources, including the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Great Britain has the second- or first-highest military expenditure in the world. Total defence spending currently accounts for around 2.4% of total national GDP.
Great Britain has a partially regulated market economy. Based on market exchange rates the UK is today the sixth-largest economy in the world and the third-largest in Europe after Germany and France, having fallen behind France for the first time in over a decade in 2008. HM Treasury, led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is responsible for developing and executing the British government's public finance policy and economic policy. The Bank of England is the Britain's central bank and is responsible for issuing notes and coins in the nation's currency, the pound sterling. Banks in what was formerly South Scotland and Northern Ireland retain the right to issue their own notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover their issue. Pound sterling is the world's third-largest reserve currency (after the US Dollar and the Euro). Since 1997 the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, headed by the Governor of the Bank of England, has been responsible for setting interest rates at the level necessary to achieve the overall inflation target for the economy that is set by the Chancellor each year.
The British service sector makes up around 73% of GDP. London is one of the three "command centres" of the global economy (alongside New York City and Tokyo), it is the world's largest financial centre alongside New York, and it has the largest city GDP in Europe. Edinburgh is also one of the largest financial centres in Europe. Tourism is very important to the British economy and, with over 27 million tourists arriving in 2004, the United Kingdom is ranked as the sixth major tourist destination in the world and London has the most international visitors of any city in the world. The creative industries accounted for 7% GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6% per annum between 1997 and 2005.
The Industrial Revolution started in the UK with an initial concentration on the textile industry, followed by other heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining and steelmaking. British merchants, shippers and bankers developed overwhelming advantage over those of other nations allowing the UK to dominate international trade in the 19th century. As other nations industrialised, coupled with economic decline after two world wars, the United Kingdom began to lose its competitive advantage and heavy industry declined, by degrees, throughout the 20th century. Manufacturing remains a significant part of the economy but accounted for only 16.7% of national output in 2003.
The automotive industry is a significant part of the UK manufacturing sector and employs over 800,000 people, with a turnover of some £52 billion, generating £26.6 billion of exports. The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry in the world depending upon the method of measurement and has an annual turnover of around £20 billion. The wings for the Airbus A380 and the A350 XWB are designed and manufactured at Airbus UK's world-leading Broughton facility, whilst over a quarter of the value of the Boeing 787 comes from UK manufacturers including Eaton (fuel subsystem pumps), Messier-Bugatti-Dowty (the landing gear) and Rolls-Royce (the engines). Other key names include GKN Aerospace – an expert in metallic and composite aerostructures that's involved in almost every civil and military fixed and rotary wing aircraft in production and development today.
A census is taken simultaneously in all parts of the UK every ten years. The Office for National Statistics is responsible for collecting data for England and Wales, the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency each being responsible for censuses in their respective countries. In the 2011 census the total population of the United Kingdom was 63,181,775. It is the third-largest in the European Union, the fifth-largest in the Commonwealth and the 21st-largest in the world. 2010 was the third successive year in which natural change contributed more to population growth than net long-term international migration. Between 2001 and 2011 the population increased by an average annual rate of approximately 0.7%. This compares to 0.3% per year in the period 1991 to 2001 and 0.2% in the decade 1981 to 1991. The 2011 census also confirmed that the proportion of the population aged 0–14 has nearly halved (31% in 1911 compared to 18 in 2011) and the proportion of older people aged 65 and over has more than tripled (from 5 to 16%). It has been estimated that the number of people aged 100 or over will rise steeply to reach over 626,000 by 2080.
The culture of the United Kingdom is the pattern of human activity and symbolism associated with the United Kingdom and its people. It is influenced by the UK's history as a developed island country, a liberal democracy and a major power, its predominantly Christian religious life, and its composition of four countries—England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—each of which has distinct customs, cultures and symbolism. The wider culture of Europe has also influenced British culture, and Humanism, Protestantism and representative democracy developed from broader Western culture.
British literature, music, cinema, art, theatre, comedy, media, television, philosophy and architecture are influential and respected across the world. The United Kingdom is also prominent in science and technology. Sport is an important part of British culture; numerous sports originated in the country, including football. The UK has been described as a "cultural superpower", and London has been described as a world cultural capital. The Industrial Revolution, with its origins in the UK, had a profound effect on the socio-economic and cultural conditions of the world. As a result of the British Empire, significant British influence can be observed in the language, culture and institutions of a geographically wide assortment of countries, including Australia, Canada, India, Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, the United States and English speaking Caribbean nations. These states are sometimes collectively known as the Anglosphere, and are among Britain's closest allies. In turn, the empire also influenced British culture, particularly British cuisine.